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British media again prove they’ll put perception over reality

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Look! A windmill! Let’s tilt at it.

Arsenal v Norwich City - Carabao Cup Fourth Round Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

First off, let’s establish as the basis for this piece that I don’t believe that media is unbiased. Ever. Anywhere. About anything. That’s not how human beings work, and since human beings run the media (for now), by extension, that’s not how the media works. Everyone brings their own biases - some overt, some subtle, some unconscious - to everything they do.

As a journalist, the battle then becomes how to overcome that bias and write about things as fairly as you possibly can. That’s not to say a journalist can’t be unbiased; it’s just that, in most cases, they generally aren’t. It takes work and conscious thought to remove bias, and journalism - particularly sports news reporting - is often speed-based, and doesn’t lend itself to a lot of thought. And to a certain extent, complaining about bias in journalism is very much Old Man Yells At Cloud territory - media’s biased, water is wet, et cetera and so on.

That said, there’s long been something that bugs me about the way the English media cover Arsenal. I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while now, and I haven’t, but let’s see if you can spot any issues with this screenshot:

Tuesday’s Carabao Cup action saw both Manchester City and Arsenal taken to extra time by Championship sides. Arsenal rode Eddie Nketiah’s finishing to a 2-1 win over Norwich City in their extra time, while Manchester City’s match with Wolves went to the end of extra time and to penalties, where City prevailed easily.

And yet! “Man City beats Wolves on penalties” is the headline for that game, and “Teenager Nketiah saves Arsenal from Norwich upset” is the Arsenal headline. First, and most pedantically, you don’t “beat” a team on penalties, you advance after officially drawing the match. Arsenal, on the other hand, actually beat their opponent in extra time.

Now, moving away from the pedantic to the WTF: why is Arsenal beating a Championship side regarded as a “saved upset”, with that phrase’s implication of imminent disaster and tragedy, when City nearly losing to a Championship side in the exact same way regarded more neutrally? Looking at that City headline, you’d never guess that the most expensive squad in the Carabao Cup almost lost to a squad whose total payroll, at about £106 million, is many, many multiples of Wolves’ salary budget. If the tone of the two headlines above were consistent, the City headline should read something like “Most expensive squad in the Carabao Cup barely avoids humiliation.

And this is only the most recent example - this seems to be the default way the English media look at Arsenal these days, as one banana peel away from a total catastrophe, when other teams face the same situations that Arsenal do on a regular basis and don’t get the same (lack of) perspective.

There’s been so much of that over the years, it’s just kind of background noise at this point - the years of “Arsenal will fail to make the top four this year because they didn’t sign (that year’s new hotness), followed by Arsenal inevitably making the top four - until last year, obviously, but those “fail to make the top four” things have been around for years. Every year that Arsenal failed to win something, the noise multiplied, as if one year’s failure guaranteed or cleared a path for the next year’s.

Arsene Wenger kept this team in the Champions League for 21 straight seasons, and yet if you read through the headlines of the last 10 of those years, at least, you’d get the sense that Arsenal were basically being held together by bailing wire and chewing gum. I am certainly not denying that Arsenal had and have their issues, structural and otherwise, but it seems like a lot of the media has spent a great deal of time in the last decade-plus figuring out ways to spin all things Arsenal as negative or heading that way.

It’s to the point now where I’m starting to wonder if journalists are personally offended by Arsenal for some reason. I honestly can’t figure out why even the slightest Arsenal slip, like not handling Norwich in 90 minutes the way they “should” (even though there’s no such thing as a guarantee in sports), is considered a near-catastrophe, while Manchester City slipping on the exact same patch of ice is all in a day’s work.

It’s not even like Arsenal have had that much success throughout their history that they should be automatically hateable, like Manchester United, or further afield Bayern Munich or the two Spanish giants. Arsenal have no perch from which to be knocked off, except that of “a pretty good team that seems to piss off a lot of people for no good reason”. And that’s less a perch than a porch step, if I’m being totally honest.

Is there a way to fix this? I doubt it. If Arsenal suddenly rise up above their station and win the next three Premier Leagues and a Champions League and a couple FA Cups, they’ll be hateable for all the usual reasons English people hate things - they’re too successful, they’re bigger than they should be, etc. If they continue as they are, playing-wise, they’ll continue to be barely relevant in the title race, which is fine, but every single thing they do will be covered by the media as if Arsenal ran over the media’s dog on their way to work and didn’t stop to apologize.